This post may contain affiliate links, which help to keep Discerning Cyclist rolling. Learn more.
Scouring for positives in a pandemic that has shattered every facet of life as we knew it, and taken life from more than 800,000, is rather akin to searching for that proverbial needle in a haystack. They may be there, but even locating them somewhat feels like missing the point.
So, I write this with discretion, knowing that the trauma coronavirus has engendered among almost the entire planet will not be alleviated by an uplifting story about cycling. In the grand scheme of things, of course, it could hardly matter less.
But while I’m not one to adopt a positive mindset to much in life, strangely it’s taken a mental hurdle as monumental as coronavirus to bring out a stronger resolve in me. I spent the first few weeks cowering, a hermit gripped by fear, before deciding that even in these ‘unprecedented times’, even while still abiding by every precept of the ‘new normal’, there had to be more to life than this.
Why I Returned To Cycling
So I decided I would try to lose weight and get in shape. I had toyed with the idea before, primarily in my thrifty university days of Tesco’s 17p loaves of bread, Lidl’s 83p frozen pizzas and similar bare-minimum bargains. Trouble was, the next pub outing, the next football match, the next gathering was always within touching distance. I did not have the commitment for it before, and maybe the fact that I have never been morbidly obese rendered it less a matter of urgency.
But with the world shut down and those simple pleasures swept from under my feet, it strangely felt as if shedding some fat would never have been easier than it was then. I weight 14-and-a-half stone in mid-April, but decided against setting myself a numerical target, for fear that I would slip back into old habits once I’d hit it.
I made positive dietary changes too, but as for exercise, initially, I solely ran, only to quickly discover the toll that a 5K a day takes on your poor feet. So I set myself a routine – a 60-minute walk on day one, a 60-minute cycle on day two, a run on day three, a rest on day four. Rinse and repeat.
What Did I Expect?
I did not know what to anticipate when dusting off my bike again. I had always loved cycling, but life had got in the way to the extent that I had ridden it only a handful of times in the last year – with most of these trips being to a nearby pub along the picturesque River Mersey. I was not only out of shape, but probably out of practice, too.
For the first few rides I took it easy, trying to gradually step up the pace with each cycle, to test myself but not bite off more than I can chew and not leave me panting for breath. My second-hand Rockrider mountain bike is by no means state-of-the-art, but it works for me and I’ve now learnt how to use it to get the best out of my cycling ability, too.
There are countless early incidents with hills that spring to mind; two of which came on the same journey about a month after I started this routine on a cycle to Liverpool which, at more than a 50 km round-trip, was the most ambitious and challenging ride I think I’d ever embarked upon.
Both on a seriously steep hill in Gateacre, a suburb of the city, and a towering bridge closer to home, I just didn’t have it in me to ride out the whole distance of them, and sheepishly ended up walking my bicycle up them. Getting lost around an industrial park in nearby Widnes on the way home wasn’t a highlight, either.
But I have completed this route three times more since then, and with improved fitness and a better knowledge of how best to use my gears, have faced these challenges head-on and (literally) rode them out. I would also average a speed of about 16 km/h in the early weeks; now I’m disappointed if I record anything less than 18.5 km/h, at least.
Overall Feeling From Regular Cycling
In many ways, I’ve surprised myself with these little victories, in that they are achievements I didn’t feel physically capable of just a few weeks and months prior.
And for the most part, particularly when sweeping through the summer breeze or overcoming such obstacles as those mentioned above, I’ve loved the experience of cycling for at least an hour at least, twice a week. Riding through rain is less pleasurable, of course, as can be the aimless journeys with no set route in mind, when I find myself rather going through the motions just to clock another hour into Strava.
But since April, I’ve cycled to Liverpool, Manchester and virtually all points in-between, so even if I’ve surprised myself by how much I’ve become capable of, forgive me if I’m a little out of ideas at this juncture.
Will I Carry On?
Ideally, yes, but as the remnants of our former, pre-pandemic lives gradually reappear, as restaurants, pubs and bars reopen and work feels a little more consuming again, it feels only natural to assume that cycling will be shoved down the pecking order. Winter might also melt away the readiness to ride I have felt throughout summer, but I will certainly endeavour to keep it up; I would lose too much from dropping it altogether.
As for my weight? Well, so as to not become fixated on figures, I’m committed to only stepping on the scales every three months, so the most recent update I can offer is from early July, when I recorded about 12.5 stone (almost two stone lost in three months).
Of course, I’d have rather achieved this feat without living through one of history’s grimmest chapters. In years to come, schoolchildren will learn of the lives and jobs that were cruelly taken, the tanking of the economy, the two-metre rules, the face masks, the closures, the resumption of sport behind closed doors, the utter diminishing of our way of life. Not how one individual happened to rediscover his love for cycling, or ran his first half-marathon, concurrently. But I at least take heart from the fact that, in this most ghastly of predicaments, I feel I’ve made the best of it.
And again, I’d find it unhealthy to have set a specific number in mind to reach weight-wise, so it feels reassuring to know I’ve made a positive lifestyle change without punishing myself, but in a sustainable, stimulating fashion.
And for that, every endlessly steep stretch of road I’ve scaled, every puddle of muddy water I’ve naively misjudged, every bead of sweat that’s trickled down my frazzled face – it’s all felt thoroughly worthwhile.